In this blog, we’re happy to highlight our newest staff member, Shalee Lehning!

Position

Women’s Ministry Staff

Home Town

Sublette, Kansas

Description of Work at Harvest USA

I serve in our Direct Ministry by offering targeted discipleship and small group facilitation. My focus is working with individuals who seek help for their sexual struggles, as well as those who have been impacted by the sexual struggles of others. In addition, I’m involved in the equipping component of Harvest USA, which includes participating in teaching and equipping events and producing resources for Harvest USA.

How did you get to Harvest USA?

In 2015, while living in Laramie, Wyoming, I was first introduced to Sexual Sanity for Women, a discipleship resource by Harvest USA. Not only did God use that resource in a powerful way in my own life, but I was ultimately able to use that same resource to facilitate biblical support groups for other women in my home church. Several years later, I discovered the internship program at Harvest USA, which compelled me to move across the country in 2018 in hopes of becoming better equipped to minister in these areas. At the completion of my yearlong internship, the opportunity arose for me to join the Women’s Ministry staff full-time in July of 2019.

What is your favorite Scripture?

2 Corinthians 10:9–10, which says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

What do you love or enjoy about working at Harvest?

In the face of deep struggle and heartache, I get to watch men and women courageously battle for that which they believe in. We live in a world today that boasts in autonomy, and we are constantly bombarded with messages that crash against biblical beliefs. I am so encouraged when I see believers standing for what they believe is true, even as they expose themselves for their beliefs. In addition, I think it takes great humility to invite someone into the mess and pain of your life and ask for help. Working at Harvest allows me to witness this type of bravery on a regular basis. There truly is beauty in our brokenness, where Jesus meets us.

What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far from direct ministry?

Only God can bring about true heart change in our lives. Even our most valiant efforts to bring about change will come up empty if we aren’t allowing God to work in and through us. This has been a deep encouragement to me personally because, in a way, it takes the pressure off of us as ministry staff. The burdens of this life are too heavy for us to carry. We will buckle under the pain and heartache of this world without God, and what a wearisome task it is to rely on our human efforts to bring about anything more than behavioral change. As I’ve walked with women through our direct ministry, a verse I have turned to often is the promise God gives us in Isaiah 43:1–2, which says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

What are one or two things you would like to share with anyone reading?

First, you are not alone. No matter what hidden struggle you might have. No matter how many questions you might have about God. No matter how broken or ashamed or worthless or hopeless you might feel. Jesus sees you. There is not only a way out of the darkness but also healing for your pain. If you are struggling to believe that right now, reach out for help. I believed the lie for a long time that I was the only Christian struggling in these ways. Not only is that not true, but many other Christians are also drinking deeply of the grace of God in these areas.

Second, don’t go at this alone. As we step out in honesty, we open ourselves to receiving God’s care and love from other believers. I refer to Exodus 17:12–13 often when I think about needing others’ help. Moses was leading the people of Israel into battle, and, as long as he held his staff in the air, the Israelites prevailed. As time passed, though, his arms grew tired, and Moses was unable to hold the staff up on his own. Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses and literally held his arms up for him. If we are honest, we all need people to come alongside us and hold our arms up through life’s storms.

What is your favorite thing about living in Philadelphia?

The Wissahickon Valley Park Trail System. I love being active outside! This trail system goes for miles, connecting the city to the suburbs. I enjoy riding my bike on this trail into the city as it provides a unique vantage point to experience Philly.

Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself?

I love sports! I grew up playing a variety of sports, but my love for basketball eventually won out as my favorite. I was blessed by an opportunity to play college basketball at Kansas State University. Eventually, my childhood dream of playing in the WNBA came true when I was drafted in 2009 by the Atlanta Dream. It was a privilege to travel all over the country and play the sport that I loved.


You can also watch the video, “From Athletics to Ministry: God’s Unexpected Surprises“, which corresponds to this blog.

If you struggle with codependency and obsessive attachments, take heart! The Lord can help you and change you.

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart or Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share by Ellen Dykas. When you buy these minibooks from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, “Codependent No More: Encouragement for Keeping Christ Central in Our Relationships,” which corresponds to this video.

God created us as sexual beings, so it makes sense that our sexual desires would be a primary target for attack. Thankfully, God did not leave us helpless. He gave us his word, and he gave us Ephesians 6—a very well known passage addressing spiritual warfare. In this video, Shalee Lehning explains how we can pray the armor of God (as outlined in Ephesians 6:10-20) into our sexual struggles and temptations.

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our resources, such as Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex by John Freeman and Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness by Ellen Mary Dykas. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, When an Unseen Enemy Assaults You, which corresponds to this video.

In my last post, I talked about what 1 Corinthians 7:4 does not say. I argued that the passage does not, in any way, support sex on demand in marriage. Today, I’d like to consider what it does say. The picture of sex in marriage that these verses present is radically countercultural in our world. In these verses, both the husband and the wife are called to give to the other spouse sexually, with intentional, purposeful deliberateness. The picture is not one of stimulus-response, passion-driven, sex-drive satisfaction.

To use classical categories, sex is described as an expression of agape love, not eros love. Agape is the intentional, deliberate, self-sacrificial love with which God loves us, and with which we are then called to love each other. Eros is the passion of sexual desire. Sex in marriage may obviously entail eros, but it is to be primarily led by agape.

In our culture, eros is revered, even worshiped, as the highest experience, the key to human flourishing, the foundation and requisite of any life-partner relationship, even in marriage. Our culture expects the passion of erotic attraction to be the initiating and sustaining dynamic of any such relationship—so much so that we might say that eros itself is the goal, and relationships only exist or continue inasmuch as they serve eros.

But think of how destructive this eros-led view is to a marriage: A couple plunges into marriage, sure that they have found (or have been found by!) true love. But when the daily, mundane, and unpleasant work of living with another sinful being comes to the fore, the erotic attraction to each other fades or disappears altogether. They’ve lost “that lovin’ feeling.” Sex ends. The relationship requires increasingly harder work, even as their motivation to do that hard work disappears. Of course, this happens because the foundation of the relationship was romantic eros. And the problem is not just the fact that spontaneous romantic erotic arousal fades for the married couple. Equally destructive is the fact that the capacity for arousal does not disappear—it just leaves this relationship. Eros is fickle, elusive, and spontaneous, with a spontaneity that is just as likely to attach itself to someone outside of the marriage. Or, frustrated by its elusiveness, a husband or wife can harness it to their imaginations via pornography or romance novels. Many marriages don’t survive this.

But wait. Perhaps you have heard this often. Christians usually advise that the marriage relationship be based on more than sexual attraction. But 1 Corinthians 7 says something much less common; it extends this principle to sexuality itself. In other words, you may have heard that a marriage relationship should not be led by sexual arousal. In these verses, God tells us that sex should not be led by sexual arousal, at least not primarily! The picture that the apostle Paul paints is not of two people waiting for the rush of romantic attraction to come upon them. Our culture worships moments like this. Such a synchronous alignment of erotic attraction is deemed proof you have found the “real thing.” But, in reality, this is only a firm basis for something as temporary and fleeting as a one-time hookup, nothing more. No, these verses teach us that not only marriage in the broader sense, but also the sexual expression of that marriage, is to be founded in, shaped by, motivated by, and sustained by intentional, deliberate, self-sacrificial agape love.

Perhaps you can imagine some of the implications of this radical perspective on sex and marriage. I will mention a few.

If you are married:

  • Your sex life is not captive to the whims of erotic attraction. If husband and wife are motivated to move toward the other sexually on the basis of an intentional commitment to give to the other sacrificially, sex will not be limited to those rare moments when the erotic stars align. Isn’t it obvious that a couple applying Paul’s instruction will have sex more often? The irony is that this will result in much more eros in a marriage, not less; however, it will not be the driving force, but a fruit of agape.
  • There is hope for your marriage, despite your personal history of eros. Many married people have lengthy, personal histories of being led by eros. Not only have they learned to be slaves of spontaneous erotic attraction, but that attraction has habitually been attached to something other than their spouse, like other individuals (i.e., old flames) or pornographic images. The memory and power of these habits of eros have no respect for your marriage vows. If you continue to be led by eros, these old habits will constantly intrude and compete quite effectively against your spouse for your loyalty. But if you make even your sexuality subject to your agape love for your spouse, the two of you will build new habits of eros on a foundation that your old memories can’t touch. Having renounced their power to control you, these old, erotic masters will increasingly lose their ability to draw you away from your spouse.

If you are single:

  • Your sex life is not captive to the whims of erotic attraction. The world and your own flesh are trying to seduce you into patterns of slavery to erotic attraction that will leave you empty, broken, discarded, and hopeless. Now is the time to learn to receive God’s agape love and give it to others. This love is your eternal inheritance; it, not eros, is the key to human flourishing. Practice treating it as such. And if, in the future, God brings you into marriage, the eros you enjoy will depend upon the agape love in that marriage. Be wary of how pornography, the media, and peers seek to train you otherwise.

Take heart that Christ came to redeem all aspects of sexuality, including your beliefs about sexual attraction and love.

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You can also watch the video, “What About the Sexless Marriage?,” which corresponds to this blog.

Let’s suppose…the husband is truly repentant and growing, but he also feels like his wife’s coldness to him is making it more difficult. Is 1 Corinthians 7:1–5 relevant for him?

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our resources, such as What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Married? by R. Nicholas Black and God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, “The Whims of Erotic Attraction and 1 Corinthians 7,” which corresponds to this video.

Pain is deafening. Whether physical or emotional, pain not only has the ability to hurt deeply but also to smother our faith and hope in Christ. Pain of betrayal. Rejection. Broken relationships. Loss. Loneliness. Uncertainty. Ongoing sexual struggles. Deferred hopes. Or simply the consequences of living in a broken world with our sinful choices. The sad reality is that, regardless of what triggers our pain, the aftermath can be just as disorienting.

Many Christians have been taught that prayer is a wise response to painful life circumstances. However, one of the things I hear the most from women amidst their suffering and heartache is that they struggle to know what to pray. In the throes of emotional turmoil, many people find that words evade them, or they don’t think they are allowed to say what they truly feel to a holy God. Sexual strugglers can mistakenly believe that their temptations and sins cannot be voiced at the throne of grace. Shame keeps them silent and stuck in an internal dialogue of unbelief: “Can God really handle my truth?!”

God is holy and deserves our reverence, but he also desires to be in relationship with us. For relationship to thrive, there must be communication. But what do you do when the pain of life cuts so deep that you can’t think, let alone find the vocabulary to pray?

Well, you can pray God’s Word. Let his Word come up with what to say for you. Scripture shows us examples of God’s people crying out gut-raw, honest prayers in the midst of their pain and suffering. The Psalms are a great example of this appropriate honesty. When life hurts most, we have a guide!

Here are some ways you can pray when pain is disorienting.

When you feel weak and weary, pray…
“Lord, I am so tired; I don’t feel like I can do this. Your Word says you give power to the weak, and you increase their strength when they have none. Please give me strength to get through this day” (Isaiah 40:29).

When you feel ashamed, pray…
“Father, I am so ashamed; I just keep failing. Please remove my shame because, in Christ, I am your beloved one. Thank you that as I look to you, my face is never covered with shame, regardless of what my emotions tell me” (Psalm 34:5).

When you feel alone and afraid, pray…
“Father, I feel all alone. I’m so scared that this pain is never going to go away. Your Word says not to fear because you are with me, but it is so hard to believe that you are near. Please help me believe. Strengthen me, help me, and uphold me with your righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

When you feel grief, pray…
“Father, my hopes and dreams are caving in. As Proverbs 13:12 says, a deferred hope makes the heart sick, and that’s all I feel right now. Thank you that a day is coming when you will wipe away every tear from my eyes; when there will be no more death, sorrow, or crying; when there will be no more pain as the former things pass away” (Revelation 21:4).

When you doubt God, pray…
“Lord, I just don’t understand! The pain of this ongoing struggle is making me question so many things. Please help me trust in you and not lean on my own understanding. I acknowledge you as God. Help me believe that you will make straight my path” (Proverbs 3:5–6).

When you feel tempted, pray…
“Father, help! I don’t feel like I can say no to this. I know this temptation that is trying to overtake me is common to mankind, and your Word says you are faithful⁠—you will not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear. This feels like too much to bear, so help me see the way out that you provide for me to endure this” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

When you need hope, pray…
“Lord, I feel hopeless. But thank you that I have more to hope in than my present circumstances. Thank you that, according to your great mercy, you have caused me to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for me. By your power, I am guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last days” (1 Peter 1:3–5).

Are you struggling to know what to pray? Be honest with God about how you feel. When we are crushed in spirit, God doesn’t expect us to package all of our emotions into neat, little gift boxes. He doesn’t say, “Child, don’t speak until you have something eloquent to say.”

Instead, he meets us in our honesty with mercy and compassion. He speaks tenderly to us with peace, love, and forgiveness (Hosea 2:14). He does what only he can do by taking the pain meant to destroy us and using it to make us more like Jesus, the person who is most able to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15).

The next time that life hurts so bad you can’t think of words to pray, or when circumstances make despair seem like the only feasible option, let God’s Word be your guide. Our loving Father already knows exactly what you’re feeling, so accept his invitation to tell him about it.

You can also watch the video, “Praying with Someone in Pain,” which corresponds to this blog.

In this post, you’ll hear from women and men whom our staff know personally. These brothers and sisters in Christ are seeking to stand firm in obedience during the unusual circumstances forced upon them through the COVID-19 pandemic. They are battling well by fleeing sexual and relational temptations through the daily graces that God provides to all believers. As you read their words, perhaps you’ll be encouraged afresh to flee your personal temptations through the mercies that are yours in the Lord.

“Prayer is being used of God to help me focus on Christ and the hope that I have in him! This slower, quieter, at-home pace of life has meant fewer distractions from prayer, as well as unique need for prayer, and I rejoice to be nearer to him.”

“Instead of seeing my temptations—being afraid and anxious, or finding comfort and security in sexual sin—exclusively as invitations to evil, I have begun using them as signposts to remind me to run to Christ and keep my focus on him. It is easy to forget God when going through the normal rhythms of daily life, but, when life gets tough, the suffering and temptation to sin reminds me of the truth that I need God all the time!”

“During my prayer time, I have been using the Psalms as a guide to help me verbalize the troubles of my heart and to remind me of who my God is. Being transparent with God about how I feel and taking time to think about his character has helped to stabilize my heart during these uncertain times!”

“What’s helped me during this time has been cutting off sources that fuel my temptation: TV, movies, music, social media. I’ve been trying to starve my temptations as much as possible. Also, I’ve been consistent in my time with God, pouring my heart out in worship.”

“Completing my workbook assignments in Sexual Sanity for Women (SSFW) has kept me disciplined and reminds me that I always need to be on guard from the enemy’s schemes. Isolation can lead to destructive behaviors that leave scars on my soul, and SSFW reminds me that I must lean on him constantly and never let go!”

“During this time of forced isolation, it’s important for me to stay in contact with my accountability partners. I have to make a conscious effort to call, text, or video chat with them to bring temptations into the light, because that is where they lose their power.”

“As often as possible, I download Christian teaching from my favorite conference speakers, online sermons, or other edifying podcasts and listen to them while working or on a break. This has kept my mind engaged on the Lord and kingdom-living, rather than allowing my mind to wander into lustful thought patterns and fruitless habits. This has an added benefit of providing edifying material to discuss with my wife and others.”

These dear brothers and sisters are living out practical theology while they draw near to Christ, our true “way of escape,” as Paul beautifully described in 1 Corinthians 10:13-14. My former colleague, David White, explained the beauty of looking to Christ when the battle rages:

“Jesus is the way of escape because he knows your pain specifically! ‘For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted’ (Hebrews 2:18). How was he tempted? Lest you think his experience was different, Hebrews tells us, ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15). Listen to that hope! He has suffered the same temptations you experience. Therefore, right in the midst of your battle with temptation, his help is real and substantial. Knowing that Jesus suffered like you, but did so victoriously, is a deep source of strength and comfort. He alone knows exactly what you need, because he alone knows exactly what it takes, having endured the same temptations, but without ever failing.”

Our direct ministry staff team is honored to jump into the trenches with people day after day, pointing them to our Lord Jesus, our ever-present help in every need and every period of history.

If you’ve been helped and encouraged by our ministry, would you consider giving to Harvest USA today? Even during COVID-19, we remain dependent on God’s sustaining grace and the generous partnership of his people. Thank you for standing with us as we joyfully engage the battle for the advancement of God’s kingdom!

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You can also watch the video, Our Ever-Present Help in Sexual Temptation, which corresponds to this blog.

A few weeks ago, I read an article about the recently released movie, Rocketman, which chronicles the life of openly gay and quite flamboyant British rock star, Elton John. The article exposed that the Russian government had removed all of the homosexual love scenes from the movie since Russian law interprets these as “lewd acts” and considers them lawbreaking.

Although I’m not sure that outlawing sin is the best way for believers to suppress our own sinful desires, let alone mandate that non-believers do the same, I was kind of thankful for this declaration since I believe that the Bible defines homosexual sex as sin. To be clear, however, the Holy Spirit is the one who confronts our sin and moves us to repent of it. He also moves us to believe in the power of the atonement, received by the Lord Jesus on behalf of our sin, and fights in and through us against sin that remains both in us and around us.

But, nonetheless, my response got me wondering and made me think: why am I so on-board with the Russians here? I guess a better question is: why am I not up in arms about other sins that are so prevalent in our culture?

Blind to Sin Around Us

To be clear, I was probably never going to see Rocketman, but it doesn’t change the fact that I had a visceral and agreeable response to the Russian government’s indictment on the movie. I mean, when’s the last time I agreed with the Russian government about anything?

What bothered me even more was that sexual sin that is so prevalent in our culture doesn’t seem to unnerve me nearly as much. Why not? Maybe because I’m blind. Maybe because sexual sin is so pervasive in our society that I simply don’t notice it anymore.

The movies we love, the shows we watch, the songs we sing: so much of what we adore in pop culture is chock full of sexual sin and innuendos that slip under the radar unnoticed. Maybe we do notice, but we just look away or justify our complicity providing an excuse that we can be in the world as long as we’re not of it.

There was a similar struggle in Old Testament Israel when God’s people performed idolatrous rituals and sacrifices in the “high places” that they learned from surrounding nations. The people had been influenced by the culture around them. Kevin DeYoung writes, “The high places were so entrenched in the culture, they seemed so normal, that even the good kings did not think to remove them. . . Sexual immorality is one of our high places. I’m afraid we–and there is an “I” in that “we”–don’t have the eyes to see how much the world has squeezed us into its mold.” (Kevin DeYoung, Hole in Our Holiness, page 108.)

Striving Toward Purity

For all of us, married or single, attacks upon our sexual purity are strengthening and increasing. One way we strive toward purity is by running from impurity (1 Corinthians 6:18, 10:13, Genesis 39:13). Remember Joseph and Potiphar’s wife? Joseph ran away from temptation so fast that he left his garment behind. Do we run from sexual sin?

So often I think we’re trying so hard to relate to the world that we’ve lost our edge. We’ve lost our desire for holiness. To be honest, I’m often shocked at what we consider okay to watch on a screen. The sexual sin we tend to accept, maybe because it’s heterosexual sin, is no less dangerous and should bother us just as much.

Let’s be honest. We all have our list of sins we love to hate. And we’re commanded to hate sin. But, we’re commanded to hate all of it.

We all have our list of sins we love to hate. And we’re commanded to hate sin. But, we’re commanded to hate all of it.

After reading that article, I asked myself: do I have the same visceral response that opposes the sex scenes in TitanicTop GunMy Big Fat Greek WeddingA Star is Born? Each and every Fast and Furious movie? Was I as repulsed as I should have been or did I even notice the sexual scenes in those movies that many of us embrace?

I know that we can’t come out of the woodwork to oppose all of the works of the flesh because if we did, that’s all we’d ever do. But is it possible that the Spirit who lives in us isn’t stirred regularly regarding sexual sin because we have quenched him in this area (1 Thessalonians 5)? Contrary to popular belief, we are supposed to judge sin. We are called to obey the Spirit as we use Scripture and wisdom to judge sin in us and in others, and Jesus tells us exactly how to do it. Simply put, we are instructed that we can’t be hypocrites when we judge (Matthew 7:1-5).

Homosexuality is sin. But so is coarse joking, adultery, sensuality, pornography, masturbation, and promiscuity. I’m not suggesting that we run for the hills and create a safe Christian commune so that we can avoid our culture entirely. However, I am praying that we (and I am part of the “we”) consider judging all sins, not just the sins we love to hate, before we decide to finally throw a stone. And maybe then we can become a small part of redeeming our over-sexualized culture and strive toward the holiness that God desires.

Editor’s note: This article was first published by enCourage in 2019.

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You can also watch the video, Transformed Hates and Loves, which corresponds to this blog.

As our focus increasingly centers on the Lord, the more our desires become conformed to what he loves and hates. The idea here isn’t to focus on a list of sins, but rather to fix our affections on Christ, who reorders our desires by opening our eyes and hearts towards what is good and holy.

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness by Ellen Dykas. When you buy this book from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, The Sins We Love to Hate, which corresponds to this video.

Derrick and Carli are three months out from their wedding. Invites have been sent, RSVPs have come in, the honeymoon has been booked. When they sat down last week for their final premarital counseling session, they both had the wedding jitters. However, a painful and unexpected truth came out in that hour of counseling—a secret Derrick had kept not only from their premarital counselor but from Carli as well. He had been struggling with pornography off and on for the last twelve years, since he was fifteen. He had tried everything he knew to overcome it, but he was always on his own, never daring to share this with anyone. Now that he was in seminary to become a pastor, the terror of being found out had kept him even more committed to hiding. However, as he explained, he loved Carli and wanted her to know about it before their wedding so that she would be able to help him.

Carli was shocked . . . and heartbroken. He’s just telling me about this now?

Now what do they do? Should they move ahead with the wedding and hope for the best? Do they postpone it? Do they call it off?

Michael and Shaina have been dating for eight months and are now beginning to talk about marriage. Sure, they have a few fears, but excitement is growing as they both sense God is doing an amazing thing in their relationship.

However, there are significant secrets hidden in each of their hearts. Each has engaged in pornography and masturbation, though it’s Shaina who is more actively pursuing porn online. She is most drawn to lesbian stories in the sites she visits.

Shaina has been encouraged that, since her relationship with Michael became serious, her struggle with lust seems less intense, even if she’s still giving into temptation. She’s thought to herself, “God must be preparing me to marry him. Maybe when I’m married to him, the temptations toward women will go away all together?”

Michael would be shocked to know that Shaina struggles with porn. It’s completely off his radar that women would be tempted in that way. He’s mentioned several times that men really “wrestle with lust . . . it’s a guy thing.” She wants to be confident in his love for her, but his comments have tempted her to feel dirty and ashamed because she’s looked at porn for years—lesbian porn at that—and isn’t a guy.

Should she be honest with him, or just with her two closest female friends who can keep her accountable? Wouldn’t it be more hurtful for him to know? After all, her private fantasy life isn’t really hurting anything, is it?

Maybe you connect with one of these stories. You’re engaged to someone you truly love and yet you wrestle with knowing exactly what you should share with your fiancé(e) about your past sexual experiences and your present temptations and struggles.

Perhaps you’re not in a relationship at all right now, but you’d like to be married in the future. You’re anxious about the how, the what, the when, and the how much of sharing the parts of your story that include sexual struggle and sin.

These are important things to seriously and prayerfully consider before you get engaged, and even more crucial to consider before you get married.

But what happens when a couple enters marriage and they don’t really know each other? Wise premarital counseling addresses important issues of family history, depth of faith in Jesus, finances, children, sex, roles of each spouse, desires for lifestyle (standard of living, social life, ministry involvement), etc. However, people often marry having avoided, or barely discussed, a critical component of their story: sexual history.

Sexual history refers to experiences of sexual activity with another person, or with oneself, sometimes through technology-based communication and/or sexual fantasy. Knowing a person’s sexual history includes understanding what his or her struggle has looked like in terms of length of time, frequency of giving way to temptation, attempts to fight and overcome sin, and a willingness or resistance to be transparent and accountable with others. Sexual history also includes traumatic experiences of being sexually harassed or abused.

There are any number of reasons dating people (and premarital counselors) avoid discussing sexual history:

  1. Fear. It’s scary and feels too vulnerable. Will my boyfriend or girlfriend reject me? Is my past or present struggle too much for him or her to handle?
  1. Some think, “Let the past be the past.” Sharing this will be more damaging than helpful. Leave it alone and trust God to work things out.
  1. Private sin struggles. Pornography, masturbation, sexual hookups, mental fantasy, etc. may seem to lose some of their tempting power in the euphoria of a new dating relationship. It’s easy to think that perhaps your relationship with this person has solved the problem, as Shaina believed.
  1. Shame. Derrick had kept his porn struggle hidden from everyone until that fateful moment in the counselor’s office. Shame is a persuasive yet destructive force that leads many to keep secret sin in the dark.
  1. Feeling intimidated. Therefore, they avoid them all together. Pastors, mentors, and counselors allow personal fears and feelings of insecurity to inhibit the necessary probing into these sensitive issues.

For couples to grow into an honest, truly knowing-each-other level of intimacy, it takes time, risk, and vulnerability. This needs to begin in the dating relationship, as both man and woman wisely open up their true selves, one to the other. Based on that true knowledge of each other, including sexual history and present struggles, each can discern if this is a relationship they want to commit to for life. For this to happen wisely and thoroughly, couples need other trusted people to help them navigate these crucial and often scary conversations—before they get engaged.

Why It’s Wise to Discuss Sexual History Before You Get Engaged

Couples are wise to not wait until engagement and “formal” premarital counseling to discuss sexual history. Pre-engagement is the time for the messiness to be shared and known—not in traditional premarital counseling, which is almost always pursued post-engagement. Why?

Engagement communicates, “I’m committing myself to marry you, as is. I delight in you, respect you, know you, and will support you to grow in Christ through your joys, trials, temptations, and struggles.” Therefore, before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say, “I know you. I know your story, strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life. I want to marry you and stand by your side, ministering to you as I also receive your love and ministry to me.”

Before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say, “I know you. I know your story, strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life.”

Consider another life-impacting decision that requires thorough knowledge and taking the time to gain detailed information before taking action: buying a house. Most people would never purchase a home before the costly, time-consuming process of completing a home inspection. Buyers want to know everything possible about a house before making one of the most significant purchases of their life. A thorough home inspection, conducted by an experienced and trustworthy person, will produce a report that addresses the true condition of that house, from the roof to the foundation. A well-done home inspection brings every problem—both present and potential—into the light. Relationships are much more complex than a physical structure—and thus the importance of knowing potential challenges is that much more crucial!

If it’s commonly accepted as wise to inspect a house, how much more so for couples to do the hard work of knowing, and being known by, each other as thoroughly as possible before committing to marriage? A man and woman need to know each other’s external and internal issues, both past and present, so that they can make a wise decision regarding a lifetime investment into a marriage. Sexual history is certainly one such issue.

Wisdom would lead this couple to invest the time, money, and effort to “go deep” in knowing this house to the best of their ability before purchasing it. Even though they’ve seen the house with their own eyes and have walked on the floors together, there’s more to learn. To avoid the cost and process of a professional home inspection, or to ignore the long-term implications found during the dangerous discoveries of one, would be foolish at best and catastrophic at worst.

Committing yourself to marry a person is so much weightier than buying a house! Taking the time, effort, and vulnerability to truly know a potential spouse isn’t an “inspection”—it’s a way to show humble love to one another and build trust. Rest assured, God delights in honesty and is committed to helping his children walk in the light before him and each other.

Jesus Strengthens and Comforts You in the Process of Sharing Your Sexual History

Sharing your sexual history can be a scary thing to consider. The Lord says that honesty is a good and necessary part of being joined with other Christians (see Ephesians 4:25). If honesty is crucial for our relationships in the church, how much more important is it for those who are preparing to join in the most intimate of unions? Here are some encouraging truths to consider as you prepare to be completely honest with a potential future spouse.

You’re not alone. One of the beautiful facets of a Christ-centered relationship is that it’s not just a twosome. Jesus is with you to guide, encourage, and enable you to do the right thing and walk in the light rather than hide (see Ecclesiastes 4:9–12).

God promises mercy to those who walk in the light. Proverbs 28:13 contains a sweet promise and a sober warning as well: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” A lack of joy and freedom in Christ, versus God’s mercy and grace—which reality do you want to live in? Which of these qualities do you want to be embedded in the foundation of your relationship? Jesus already knows us fully and loves us completely. This truth compels us to confess and turn from sin, which is the invitation given to us in the gospel! Humility before God in acknowledging your need of his gracious love will embolden you to be honest with the person with whom you are contemplating marriage.

God enables us to love rather than be self-protective. Jesus loves us, and also sends us to be ambassadors of his love to people around us (see 2 Corinthians 5:20–21). This includes your girlfriend or boyfriend. Galatians 5:13 commands us that in Christ, we are to no longer live for ourselves, but rather to serve others. A decision to be honest about your past and present sexual struggles may not seem like a way to love and serve someone, but it truly is. You are honestly acknowledging and offering a component of your life story to this person. You are inviting them to know and trust you. Hiding, spinning the facts, and telling half-truths are all basically the same thing: deceitful self-protection. For a future marriage to be healthy, it must be built on transparency and solid trust, which itself begins to grow in an honest dating relationship.

God forgives our sin and redeems our past. As God forgives you, you and your future spouse will have many opportunities to offer and ask for forgiveness, participating in Christ’s work of redemption in each other’s lives (see Colossians 3:12–17). Your relationship becomes a testament to the power of the gospel to make all things new, and to restore years of sinful living. In fact, one of the beautiful ways that God uses the unique “one-flesh” union between husbands and wives is to give them a 24/7/365 experience of being known, unashamed, and loved. This images God’s steadfast love for his people who sin, who are weak, and who have painful and stigmatizing scars.

God provides helpers. Another comfort of Christ, though it may feel scary at first, is that you have brothers and sisters to walk with you. Jesus doesn’t expect couples to navigate their relationship alone. In the euphoria of a new relationship, some couples can pull away from other key relationships, which will hurt them in the long run. Such isolated future spouses evolve into an island of two—and when the storms hit, they have only each other to rely on. Proverbs 11:14 encourages humility, which reaches out to others for help, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

Jesus is our eternal companion and spouse. Finally, Jesus is with you now and forever, and will never abandon you. Your relationship may not survive the vulnerable process of sharing your sexual past. It’s better to know now, before making lifelong marriage vows, if this person can accept and be committed to the real you.


Editor’s Note:
This article is adapted from Ellen’s minibook, Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.


To learn more about this topic, watch Ellen’s accompanying video, Why Couples Who Are Considering Marriage Need to Share Their Sexual History.


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